The future is plural, non-linear, and not predefined

December 6, 2019

If you’re paying attention to the world around you, you might think that we’re going to hell soon. Climate emergency, loss of biodiversity, political turmoil, financial crises, societal collapse, and nuclear weapons are all big threats for our survival. But are these dark scenarios really going to come to life? 

How we think about the future is how we act. And it turns out, we’re not good at thinking about the future in a way that is beneficial for our long-term well being, both as individuals and as a society. So what do we do then?

First, we cannot know or predict the future. And that is a great thing! It would suck otherwise, wouldn’t it? You wouldn’t necessarily want to know when and how you’re going to die. The majority of people don’t want to know. Because we can’t predict the future, we can’t possibly know that everything will be dark. It’s possible, but not certain.

And there’s a reason why we can’t predict what will happen. The reality is complex, and many events interact with each other all the time, making it impossible to know how exactly their interactions will unfold. Anything can happen. Multiple versions of reality are possible every single moment. It’s an interesting thought – that the “future” has plurality embedded in it. So it’s useful to start thinking about futures. Instead of asking ourselves “what the future will bring” we can ask “what the futures can bring”.

All of us have assumptions and beliefs about what could happen, and we base these assumptions on our past and present experiences and knowledge. But what we believe might happen, probably isn’t where you will arrive. It’s not a linear projection of the past and present. The future is not certain, but it is certain it won’t be like the past. This fixation on the most likely scenario prevents us to see alternatives the might be more likely to materialize tomorrow.

If the future is plural and non-linear, it means that nothing is predefined. Futures are open to us. What’s even better is that we are actively and constantly creating these futures, with every decision we make. We are not just passive bystanders who wait for the future to happen to us – even though we often act like that.

The current climate and societal dystopias are plausible – yes, we fucked up – but they are not inevitable. We can still unfuck the world. It’s up to us which version of the future we are going to materialize. There’s a lot of work to be done, and we can start by rejecting the notions of inevitability, linearity, singularity, and knowability of the future.

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